Peruvian government officials have discovered 11 out of 12 indigenous communities’ sources of drinking water are toxic, and unsuitable for human consumption.
The Foundation of Quechua Communities of the Pastaza River (FEDIQUEP), made up of many indigenous communities, has been through more than 40 years of contamination and neglect. After years of fighting for efforts to be heard and respected in government, samples were taken from their territories in October 2012. The results showed the impact of oil extraction on Quechua lands. The Ministry of Health (MINSA), DIGESA and DESA took samples of water, the National Water Authority (ANA) took water and sediment samples from rivers, streams and reservoirs, and the Ministry of the Environment, OEFA, took ground samples from Monte Charcras (small farm plots). The communities tested include Los Jardines, Alianza Capahuar, Sabaloyacu, Pañayacu, Titiyacu, Porvenir, Nuevo Andoas, Alianza Topal, Andoas Viejo, Soplin, Loboyacu, and Sungache.
Results published in February 2013 found that Los Jardines is the only community to have clean water. However, their drinking water comes from the Pluspetrol camp. The Pastaza River, wells, ground and ecosystems have been affected by the presence of oil spills. Contaminants found in the samples were iron, lead, zinc, aluminum, magnesium, boron, E. Coli, Total Coliforms, (TPH), (HAP), and oil. Exposure in high concentrations or over extended periods of time to toxic heavy metals cause muscle pain or weakness, developmental disabilities, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, coma, cancer and death. Long term or high dosage exposure to oil derivatives affect the central nervous system; can cause difficulty breathing, fatigue, headache, nausea, drowsiness and irritation of the skin and eyes. Lead is absorbed at a faster rate in children compared to adults, which causes more physical harm than compared to older people. Some of the wells in the communities aren’t functioning at all, and the wells that do work contain harmful agents. Without alternatives, The Quechua people drink this contaminated water and eat animals that feed off these contaminated lands.
For decades, government has allowed contamination of the ground in these territories at a level of 30 times more than is allowed in other concessions. A lack of coherent policy and enforcement has resulted in negligence of health and destruction of the communities’ ecosystem. Rainforest Foundation-supported environmental monitors have documented 50 areas in which Pluspetrol claims to have remediated, but are still contaminated with hydrocarbons and 21 “remediated” areas containing heavy metals. The oil pipelines need to be cleaned, or taken down and replaced if they are severely damaged. Wells must be disinfected and measured out with doses of chlorine and new wells should be constructed. Rehabilitation of their water systems and construction of treatment plants would be a great help. Supervision is necessary to make sure the oil pipelines comply with standards and remain in good shape to avoid spills. On a policy level, more control needs to be put on the practices of oil extraction so that oil companies will be held accountable for environmental damage and the resulting health problems.